The 31st Psalm appears prominently on Good Friday. The antiphon there, appropriately, is “Father, I put my life in your hands.”
Going deeper into the liturgy, Psalm 31 is a weekly prayer in the Hours on Wednesday night. Or rather, its first six verses are. For those of you who pray Compline, you may recognize the Reconciliation antiphon as part of the responsory:
You have redeemed us, Lord, God of truth.
The psalmist offers twenty-four verses (one of the longer works in the Psalter) strongly suggestive of an individual lament. There are elements of thanksgiving for a redemption in verses 8-9 and 20-21.
The Good Friday verses (2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25) are taken from among the most intense of the lament passages, the ones that point at the Passion of the Lord.
But these passages lie largely outside of what the Lectionary framers have given us for reconciliation:
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me;
incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver me!
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
I like the versatility of the Psalms. With a different set of verses and the liturgical perspective of Good Friday, we get the sense of Psalm 31 as strongly christological. With just these four verses, we sing the words of a believer beset by unnamed troubles. And yet, there is a quiet confidence in God. Rescue me. Hear me. Hurry up and save me. We demand God be our rock. And yet, at the end, we submit to the Father as Jesus did, and with the words of the Savior, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” And if we bow down in submission, we lose none of the edge or confidence. “You will redeem me!”
Perhaps more of that spirit would help the lagging experience of reconciliation in the Catholic mindset. Perhaps we can temper our sorrow and contrition with a sense of trust tinged with entitlement. If we are willing to bring our sins to God, why shouldn’t we insist on right treatment, as the psalmist did? The Church places these words on our lips, right?
If you plan your liturgy by theme, certainly any thought of trust is easily linked to these four powerful verses from the 31st.